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New Hampshire Wildcard: The Union Leader

By Erin McPike - August 25, 2011

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The takeaway: An endorsement from the Union Leader can spark dramatic late-breaking shifts in voter support. And if a candidate needs a convincing victory there but comes close to a tie instead, the Union Leader might be responsible -- and that could hurt.

So where do the presidential candidates stand now, ahead of the long fall campaign?

Despite perpetual criticism from the Union Leader, Romney campaign aides said they and their candidate have met with the influential voices for the paper -- including McQuaid -- several times this year. He’s returned time and again to the state, spending two days there this week, just as he spent two days there last week.

His top New Hampshire hand, Jim Merrill, ticked off all the towns Romney has campaigned in this year -- and the list is long, particularly with respect to the candidate’s campaign appearances in every other state. By the end of his visit today, Romney will have visited all 10 of the state’s counties.

“I can only speak for New Hampshire,” Merrill said. “The governor is spending a lot of time here, and that reflects the importance of New Hampshire.”

Merrill pointed to a recent town-hall event Romney did in Derry and noted that the candidate took more than a dozen questions. “Those aren’t pre-selected questions,” he said. “They’re tough. It’s New Hampshire. People expect it up here.” As for the Union Leader’s endorsement, Merrill said, “Be it a state race or a federal race, that’s an endorsement that matters. As do all the papers up here. New Hampshire remains a place where newspapers are strong; they’re relevant. As part of this process, you’ve got to talk to them, sit with them and answer their questions. The Union Leader’s is certainly an important endorsement.”

To help Perry understand that point is his campaign’s chief national strategist David Carney, a Granite Stater based in Concord. The longtime Texas governor has not been a candidate for a full two weeks yet, but multiple Republican operatives in the state have noticed that the Union Leader’s editorial page has not taken a jab at him in that time. And while Perry famously refused to sit with for interviews with the editorial boards of Texas in his re-election race last year, he’s already been in to meet with the powers that be at the Union Leader and granted the paper his first interview in the state.

The fruits of that session have not yet revealed themselves, but they could prove significant. 

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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